Lamaze breathing is just one of the techniques that you may learn in a childbirth class. You will find these breathing exercises helpful if you are a first time mom or if you have never learned how to manage your pain through breathing.
Why Breathing Helps
Lamaze teachers use breathing techniques to help manage the pain of labor and delivery. Typically, people think of the fast "hee, hee, hoo" type of breathing as the basis of Lamaze techniques. These patterned breaths help force oxygen into the blood, but should not be confused with rapid breathing or hyperventilation. Hyperventilation causes dizziness and other problems that can increase anxiety. This isn't the only type of Lamaze breathing that is taught. There are also deep breathing techniques which can help calm and relax your body. Staying calm will help you focus on the task at-hand and may help you deliver your baby without the need for pain medication.
Note: Using Lamaze breathing can help manage your pain, however, it will not eliminate your pain. Don't ever feel that it's wrong to use pain medication, if necessary.
Types of Lamaze Breathing
There are actually several types of Lamaze breathing. You will learn about them in your childbirth class, but you can also practice them now to help you relax and prepare for the birth of your child.
The first type of breathing you will probably learn in your Lamaze class is the cleansing breath (or relaxing breath). This is a deep, slow inhalation through the nose and a slow exhalation through the mouth. Cleansing breaths are used at the beginning and end of each contraction. Also known as a signal breath, a cleansing breath acts as a signal to your partner that a contraction has started and ended.
Slow breathing is a helpful technique to simply help you relax. It is your natural breathing, but slowed as when you are asleep. This is not the deep, lung-filled breaths that raise your chest and abdomen. Instead, it is shallower. Your chest will raise slightly with little effort. You will use slow breathing when the contractions become so intense that you are unable to walk or talk without resting.
Begin with a cleansing breath. Now try inhaling for a count of three to five; use whatever is comfortable for you. Now, exhale for the same count. Relax your jaw and your shoulders. Inhale: one, two, three, four. Exhale: one, two, three, four. Continue this for about 90 seconds, then end with another cleansing breath.
This is another slow, shallow breath that is done while you are relaxed. Do not force yourself to go beyond what is comfortable. Once again, begin with a cleansing breath. Then, gently inhale through your nose and on the exhale, softly blow through your mouth. To get a feel for the technique, light a candle or hold a piece of paper a few inches away from your face. Inhale gently and then softly blow out the candle or make the paper flutter. Practice this technique for about 90 seconds. Then end with another cleansing breath.
Patterned breathing (or conscious breathing) is the famous "hee, hee, hoo" breathing that Lamaze used to be all about. However, today in most childbirth classes, the patterned breathing is now more focused on the deep, abdominal breathing. This form of breathing provides you and your baby with oxygen during labor and also helps with relaxation.
The key here is to keep a comfortable rhythm. Pretend you are having a contraction. Begin with a cleansing breath. Now begin your patterned breathing and continue for about 90 seconds. End with another cleansing breath.
The most important thing to remember when using Lamaze breathing techniques is to do what makes you feel the most comfortable. Practice each technique and decide what works best for you. As long as you keep breathing, you are doing it right. Keep in mind that you can change your breathing technique if you feel like the one you are using isn't helping to manage your pain. You can also use different types of breathing depending on the stage of labor you are in, as well. Childbirth is a natural process, and it is perfectly acceptable to use the most comfortable breathing technique that is the most appropriate for you.